Next year is the 70th anniversary of D-Day. With that in mind we thought it apt to print this article detailing the memories of Ronald Crafer (Athens, 1936-1941).
Sometimes a bombing operation was a journey into fear; sometimes it was many hours of boredom interspersed with short bursts of activity which kept fear at bay.
Some were different – they were many hours of nothing. D-day was like that.
I had arrived at Ludford Magna on the Lincolnshire Wolds to join 101 squadron early in May 1944 and was designated ‘Special Operator’. This was very hush hush. Hidden under a thick cloak, the dagger was the most secret radio equipment. 101 squadron was a special squadron. Flying Lancasters, they carried extra wireless equipment and an extra crew member. In Flight Sergeant Hopes’ crew I was that man.
Our job was to listen out to German fighter control and interfere with any instructions after identifying the language as German. With the aid of three powerful transmitters we were able to jam free three frequencies within 30 seconds.
Aeroplanes from 101 accompanied every bombing operation. Thus, there was no stand-down period throughout the whole of 1944. The whole undertaking was known as Air Borne Cigar, or ABC ... that made it easy.
It appeared that while training to be a signaler (Air) at Madley near Hereford, I had let slip to my Flight Sergeant that before joining the RAF, I had had half a dozen lessons in German. I finished the signalers’ course and was awarded my sergeant stripes in April.
Excitedly, I and my classmates packed our bags for what we believed was a well earned period of leave. I had a message to report to flight office. “Your leave is cancelled” said Flight, Oh hell I thought, notwithstanding the twinkle in his eye. “You’re posted.” With 18 hours flying I set out for Doncaster from where a bus took me to Boston Park, part of the complex that was RAF Lindholme. There, the flying kit I had been given at Madley was replaced completely. Three days later I was taken by car to Hemswell. I found myself attached to No.1. LFS (Lancaster Finishing School). There I met three other newly promoted air crew sergeants, all as mystified as I was.
The next day the four of us assembled in a hut with a Flight Sergeant Instructor. “Through that door.....is something top secret,” he said. “If you go through you will commit yourself to going on operations. If you wish to withdraw you may do so and will not be considered lacking in moral fibre. Needless to say, none of us did. So the mysteries of ABC were revealed to us. I was the only one of the four of us to survive a tour of 30 operations.
A notice on the mess notice board sent me once again to flight office. “You are to report to Doncaster tomorrow at 09.00 hours for a medical” said the orderly. “Why?” “Well it has something to do with this commission you’re going in for.” I remembered the interview I had had with the Air Commodore before I graduated.
Back at Hemswell there followed about 10 hours flying to familiarise us with Lancasters. Once, when taxi-ing around the perimeter track, a puncture in one of the main landing wheels sent ambulances and fire engines scurrying after us. Luckily we were unhurt and, as we were near the administrative block there was no real problem.
On May 17th I arrived at Ludford. On the 18th I was crewed. On the 19th and 20th I had completed squadron training, a Bullseye on Bristol and a cross country flight. May 21st was my birthday and the 23rd my commission came through. I, at last got my leave during which time I was fitted out with my officers uniform. By May 30th I was back at Ludford; and on the night of June 1st & 2nd 1944 at the age of 19 I went to war.
June 5th 1944 found me a veteran; I had survived two bombing operations. The first was against Berneval-le-Grand and the second was on the night June 4th/5th against a gun emplacement at Sangatte. Returning, we found it impossible to land at base. We landed at another 1 group airfield ... Faldingworth. This meant that preparations for operations June 5th/6th took place away from our own prying eyes. Rumours flew thick and fast. Eventually some of the truth began to emerge. There was to be an abnormally high fuel load. But what of the bomb load? And I was on the battle order two nights running; ... Ah well!
At briefing all was revealed. There were to be no bombs. We ABC operators were to become important. The purpose of the trip was to carry us over enemy territory in order to interfere with radio communications. The Station Commander told us that something important was afoot, but he was not sure that the ‘balloon had gone up’.
Twenty four crews from Ludford were to fly over an area of Beachy Head to Dungeness, then across Northern France along the line of the Somme, a dog leg towards Paris and then back along the line of the Seine. We flew over this area many times during the night and into the early hours of June 6th. Apart from concentrated jamming, the intention was to give the Germans the impression that this was a gigantic bomber stream.
We learned afterwards that the Luftwaffe had put most of its fighters among us, only to find, because of our actions, it was impossible to give clear instructions to their crews. All was confusion. The result of this was that the airborne troops that were spearheading the main attack on Normandy were able to get through with casualties far lower than had been expected.
After seven hours in the dim light of our equipment, listening to the chatter and to the wailing note of our jammers, we returned home and crawled into bed, still unaware of the importance of the day. The official log described the night’s operation as ‘A Quiet Trip.’
In the short space of time from April 20th to June 6th I was trained in the use of ABC, commissioned, crewed, been on leave and taken part in three operations; one of which was probably the greatest in the history of warfare. I was involved in a highly secret, sensitive operation requiring a knowledge of the enemy’s language ... yet nobody ever tested my proficiency in German!
Taken from the Swindon Evening Advertiser, March 15th 1994.